Japan Rail Pass - Everything You Need to Know

What is a JR Pass? How do you get one? Is it worth getting? And how much does it cost? All your Japan Rail Pass questions answered.

Japan Rail Pass - Everything You Need to Know

What is a JR Pass? How do you get one? Is it worth getting? And how much does it cost? - Lot's of questions, and here are all the answers.

The Japanese railway network is one of the most comprehensive and precise in the world. You can get to every edge of the country by rail, and with some of the modern bullet trains like the Shinkansen, you can get there fast.

One of the cheapest ways to travel within Japan is to get a Japan Rail Pass, and explore the country by rail, and you can do this with the pass for an unlimited amount of trips, for the period of time you buy it for.

A caveat to this is that buying one only makes sense if you plan on hitting a lot of destinations in a shorter period of time. If not there are other ways that make more sense. You can learn about them here.

Why it's worth it

For unlimited travel by train within Japan, this pass is a fantastic deal. It’s so good that locals aren’t allowed to get it. There are more than few options for the pass. You can get JR Passes that are for specific regions like

  • Hokkaido
  • Tohoku
  • Kanto
  • Hakone

You can look into these ones here. But what we're concerned with is the Nationwide or 'regular' one which will let us travel unlimited times around the whole country. Price list below.

Type Ordinary Green Car
7 consecutive days 29,650 yen ($270) 39,600 yen ($360)
14 consecutive days 47,250 yen ($430) 64,120 yen ($585)
21 consecutive days 60,450 yen ($550) 83,390 yen ($760)

At a glance, it seems expensive but when we do some number crunching, it's very much worth it. Individual tickets cost a lot, just Tokyo to Osaka costs 13,500 to 14,500 yen, so going there and back, would mean your 1 week pass would have already been paid for - as the pass covers all JR operated trains and local buses.

Japan Guide has this handy calculator you can use to check if it’s worth it for you to get a JR Rail Pass.

Note: Green car means 'first class' - the ordinary class is already more than worth it so I wouldn't do the green.

How do you get a JR Pass?

The usual way to get a JR Pass is before you get to Japan. In recent years, you've been able to get them while in the country at Narita, Haneda and Kansai airports, but it's still much easier, cheaper, and hassle free to get them in advance.

You can get them ordered at your local travel agent or even easier, get them online from an official re-seller. There are many official re-sellers and they all sell the same pass so don't worry about finding the best one.

Once you buy the pass, there'll be a few steps involved before you actually receive them.

  1. Buy the pass from an official re-seller or travel agent
  2. Receive an exchange order document/voucher (this is proof that you've bought the pass)
  3. Exchange that for the actual pass at a designated JR Station, this includes stations that are at the major airports like Narita, Haneda and Kansai - you can check the other official stations here.
  4. Once you've received your pass, you can start using it from the start date that you've selected prior, until the 7th, 14th or 21st day at midnight (depending on your pass).

To get on a train, you can show your pass and book a seat for long haul, or to use local trains/buses, you can just show your pass to an official and they'll let you through. You won't be able to scan them at automated gates.

There you have it, that's all you need to know about the JR Pass. If you need any more information, you can checkout the Japan Guide website. If you want tips on traveling Japan on a shoestring, you can check this out.